Article & Photography by Jennifer Lewis | Owl Staff
Less than two hours away, the daily troubles of life fade after an adventure on the Appalachian Trail. Created in 1937 as a scenic footpath, the 2,181-mile-long path stretches from Georgia to Maine through the Appalachian Mountains.
Many college students (myself included) make it a goal to “thru-hike” (hike the entire trail) northbound after graduation and travel with the spring season.
I have been hiking sections of the trail for ten years. Through my experience, the best section for the first hike is through Maryland – a 45-mile, three-to-four-day journey. I suggest traveling southbound from Pen Mar to Harpers Ferry, as I did recently with my friend, Regan Adair, an HCC alum.
Before you get on the trail, you’ll need to prepare. The supplies you’ll probably need are available at any outdoor store like REI or Outdoor World. There are also various gear rental outlets if you aren’t ready for a large investment. Experts say an average person burns about 4,000 calories in a day hiking, so you need to make sure to replenish yourself with highly nutritious and protein-packed trail food.
All supplies should fit in a lightweight trail backpack, weighing 20-30 pounds. Remember, you carry everything you pack, so only bring essentials. Practice setting up your tent and know how to work your stove and water pump ahead of time.
Before dark, make your campsite in a flat area off the trail. You can also make use of wooden shelters; many thru-hikers do instead of carrying the weight of a tent. After setting up, cleaning up, and making dinner, make sure to hang up your pack five feet off of the ground in a tree to keep away from scavenging animals. Every day then becomes a routine. You wake with the sun, fold up the tent, make breakfast on the stove, pack up and start walking.
To know you’re on the right path, a painted white blaze should be seen both in front of and behind you. Other colored blazes signify park trails. To refill on water, look for blue blazes which will take you downhill to a freshwater spring.
There’s a lot of wildlife on the trail; Adair and I encountered deer, snakes, woodpeckers, and even mountain goats. The general rule is to not interfere with the animals or natural environment. We also met many other “day-hikers” (hikers who only go for the day) and “thru-hikers.” As we neared the Washington Monument, we encountered many families and Boy Scout Troops.
Hiking is a challenge well worth it; you’ll be surprised by what you can accomplish. Stand at the edge of the mountaintop cliffs to feel on top of the world.
Above all else, let the calming scenery free your mind. Stop at every breathtaking view. After every trip, I return to the world with a new awareness and appreciation of life.
Adair outlines, “I felt so happy the whole time. The tops of the mountains were amazing, as well as everything along the way.” She adds, “I think the trail teaches you how to appreciate everything.”
Adair was so moved by her first experience on the Appalachian Trail, she says, “If I had packed more food, I would have just kept walking.”
Truly, hiking the Appalachian Trail at any time will not only give you a needed getaway, but new life experiences and perspectives.
Fun Facts (Via Appalachiantrail.org)
• Thousands of volunteers contribute roughly 220,000 hours to the Trail every year.
• More than 250 three-sided shelters exist along the Trail.
• Virginia is home to the most miles of the Trail (about 550), while West Virginia
is home to the least (about 4).
• Maryland and West Virginia are the easiest states to hike; New Hampshire
and Maine are the hardest.
• The total elevation gain of hiking the entire Trail is equivalent to climbing Mt. Everest 16 times.
• About 2 to 3 million visitors walk a portion of the Trail each year.
• The Trail has hundreds of access points and is within a few hours drive
of millions of Americans, making it a popular destination for day-hikers.
• 1 in 4 who attempt a thru-hike successfully completes the journey.
• Most thru-hikers walk north, starting in Georgia in spring and
finishing in Maine in fall, taking an average of 6 months.
• Hikers usually adopt “trail names” while hiking the Trail. They are
often descriptive or humorous. Examples are “Eternal Optimist,” “Thunder Chicken,” and “Crumb-snatcher.”